What's the big trend for pop music this fall? Well, it's not country crossover albums, nor is it techno singles and all-night raves. Nor should you worry over funk/metal bands, "alternative" rap acts, Seattle grunge groups, English shoe-gazer combos or any of the other mini-crazes the music press has heralded over the past nine months. That's all old news now.
Why? Because the trend this season is cocooning -- that is, the art of staying home with the stereo.
Whether you blame it on a weak economy, an aging pop audience or election year jitters, the fact remains that despite a plethora of superstar releases -- including new albums from such heavy hitters as Madonna, Peter Gabriel, Garth Brooks, Bon Jovi, R.E.M., Prince and (possibly) Bell Biv DeVoe -- concert arenas are going to be unusually quiet this fall. In other words, the only people planning on going out this season are the fans -- and they'll only be going as far as the nearest record store.
"It's going to be slow, slow and slower," admits Dave Williams, president of Cellar Door Productions. At this point, all he has booked on the arena level for the Baltimore-Washington area is a Billy Ray Cyrus show Oct. 23 at the Patriot Centre in Fairfax, Va., and a Def Leppard date sometime in November.
Beyond that, he says, there are no big rock acts on the horizon until Bon Jovi hits the road in February. "I wish I could tell you that there's some superstar about to come out of the woodwork, but I can't," he says.
Things get a little brighter on the country side, but not much. Garth Brooks is set to make his area debut at the Capital Centre Oct. 22 (at press time, there was still no word on when tickets would go on sale), and a Conway Twitty-George Jones-Vern Gosdin package is due at the Baltimore Arena in early November. But even with the country music boom, the concert scene remains slow.
What happened? Simply put, many of the biggest in the business have decided to stay home this season. Some, like Bobby Brown (whose "Bobby" was released in late August), will probably head out eventually, but are waiting at least until the new year. Others, like R.E.M. (whose "Automatic for the People" is due out Oct. 6), simply refuse to hit the road, believing that radio and video will offer exposure enough for their new albums.
It won't be a complete live-entertainment drought, of course. Lower-level acts -- particularly those bands trying to build a reputation with heavy metal and alternative audiences -- will continue to work the club circuit.
But if that means that the average American pop fan will be spending his or her nights by the stereo, at least there'll be plenty of new stuff to listen to -- and, in a few cases, look at.
Start with Madonna. In addition to a new album, "Erotica," due out Oct. 13, the perennially controversial pop star will simultaneously release a book of erotic photos and poetry called Sex" (talk about your one-track minds). So even though there are no plans for a tour at this point, Madonna-maniacs will have ample opportunity to see and hear their heroine.
Likewise, Prince fans can look forward to a multimedia experience when the Minneapolis mastermind unleashes his new fall line. First, there'll be a new album, the title of which is an ideogram uniting the biological symbols for male and female. A few weeks later, there'll also be a video, at the end of which Prince unveils both the album's unifying concept and (more importantly) the title's pronunciation. Trouble is, no one can say with certainty when either will be in stores; originally scheduled for Sept. 15, Prince's album is now not expected before mid-October.
(Specific dates for new releases are always fairly tentative, by the way. Astute readers may recall that Bobby Brown's "Bobby," which arrived in record stores at the end of August, was originally announced as a November 1991 release).
Peter Gabriel, whose last pop album was released in 1986, returns Sept. 29 with "Us." Described as a "breakup" album, it features an international array of musicians, as well as two duets with Irish singer Sinead O'Connor. O'Connor has an album of her own due Sept. 22. Entitled "Am I Not Your Girl?", it finds her abandoning the rock-based sound of her first two albums for a set of swing-influenced cover tunes, including "Black Coffee," "I Want to Be Loved by You" and "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina."
Garth Brooks, whose album of Christmas songs, "Beyond the Season," shipped only a few weeks ago, will release another new album, "The Chase," Sept. 22. Michael Bolton offers an album of oldies, dubbed "Timeless (The Classics)," on Sept. 29. Bon Jovi reunites for its first album in four years when "Keep the Faith" lumbers out of New Jersey Nov. 3. And although there are no guarantees, word is that Bell Biv DeVoe's third (and, at this point, untitled) album may be in stores Nov. 10.